The life of glass: One million years

I’ve always been a fairly rabid recycler. I’ve been known to bring home glass when recycling wasn’t available, or spend five minutes rinsing out glass jars. Recently, I came across a ‘recycling factoid’ that motivates me to continue hauling home glass and rinsing out containers.

Glass bottles can take up to a million years to breakdown. A million years! That has to be one of the longer life spans on the planet.


So how are we doing glass recycling wise? According to the EPA, 28% of all glass containers were recycled in 2007. By comparison, 50% of aluminum cans are recycled in the United States. So we could be doing a little better.

Bottle recycling rates are higher – 34% of glass beer and soft drink bottles are recycled. In California, glass bottle recycling is nearly 79%. Nice!

What can you do?

  • When you’re in a public place without recycling, consider hauling home glass. You can leave a trash bag in the trunk of your car for such things.
  • The next time you consider trashing a glass container, reconsider.

I thought about throwing out the smaller jar pictured above. It had some icky sticky cheesy sauce inside it. I didn’t want to take the time to rinse the jar. But then… I thought about the glass sitting in a landfill for a million years, instead of being recycled into a new glass container. One million years. Nope, can’t do it. I tipped the jar upside down in my sink and later ran hot water into the jar. It only took a few minutes and now I’m glad I saved the jar.

It takes as little as 30 days for recycled glass to go from your recycling bin to a new glass container. Much better than sitting in a landfill for a million years. So go ahead save jars and bottles!

Are you a ribid recycler? Do you have a recycling story to share? Please leave a Comment.

Calling all Americans: We need to recycle more glass


2 thoughts on “The life of glass: One million years

  1. Kate, I think most people would recycle if their cities governments would make it easy for them to do. In Seattle, we have curbside recycling for all the usual items as well as food waste recycling. It is a no-brainer to sort your trash/recyclables when those options are available.

    My mom, on the other hand, lives in a small town in New Mexico and they have limited recycling options and have to drop them off in very limited timeframes in out-of-the-way places. Needless to say, recycling is minimal there.

    I’ll bet the reason California (and Seattle) have such high recycling rates is due to the availability and education about recycling options from nonprofits and governments.

    Thank you for posting about this. It really is up to each one of us to do our part, but making it as easy as taking out the trash is the key.

  2. That is amazing that it takes so long for glass to degrade. I still think that it is a much better alternative to plastic, as plastic never fully biodegrades. It may decompose, but the polymer elements never break apart.

    Thanks for the informative article, it helped make me realize that even the “better” options still impact our environment.

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